Wayward Daughters…and Mothers…and Grandmothers

Something interesting happened in the last three episodes of Supernatural – there were compelling female story lines.

Beware of spoilers for S11 immediately ahead.

Unfortunately in 11×10 “The Devil in the Details” written by Andrew Dabb, moments after Rowena’s tragic backstory was revealed and we suddenly cared for her, her neck was snapped.

“I hate you because when I look into your eyes, I see the woman I used to be before magic, before the coven, when I was nothing but Rowena, the tanner’s daughter – a pale, scared, little girl who smelled of filth and death. I hate you because when you were born your father said he loved me. Then he went back to his grand wife and his grand house whilst I lay pathetic and half-dead on a straw mat, my thighs slick with blood. I hate you because if I didn’t hate you, I’d love you. But love? Love is weakness, and I’ll never be weak again.” 

Because I love Ruth Connell and in my heart don’t believe that Rowena won’t be undeaded (hey, when talking Supernatural that’s a word), I’m hoping to see her again. The impact of her story was heavier with a witchy contraption on her neck that made it impossible for her to lie. Of course people were enraged with another female character dying, but in Supernatural it seems to happen more often than not. With a large female audience, we kind of latch on to the ladies on the screen, excited and hopeful for their stories, and then more often than not they’re gone and we notice – far more readily than when a male character is killed. That doesn’t excuse some of the reasons and ways the women are killed, but in Supernatural, death is relative.

The point of this post is not to discuss female deaths in Supernatural – I want to point out the good we’ve received lately, which I am so excited about and grateful for. Despite Rowena’s death, the monologue that revealed her story was solid and a fascinating insight into her character. With the temporary high of character development dropping almost immediately with her lust for Lucifer leading to her death, a collective sigh of quiet disappointment went out among the fandom. But then came 11×11.

Written by fan favorite Robbie Thompson, hopes were high for the episode “Into the Mystic”, but viewers got a lot more than we bargained for. Beyond being a classic throwback to the monster of the week episodes that grew the show at its start, there were female characters – a grandmother living at a community for seniors and a deaf woman. In the hands of another writer, these characters could have been stand-ins that would be a part of the episode and forgotten about, but Robbie Thompson made them important. Mildred (Dee Wallace) and Eileen (Shoshannah Stern) were portrayed naturally and with femininity, skill, and strength – and they saved the boys’ asses.

eileen and mildred

Eileen and Mildred in episode 11×11

There was none of the typical Look at these strong women! flag waving at flat characters that are given male characteristics to make them appear tough and just happen to be female – they were simply interesting women whose characterization didn’t feel forced and left the audience wanting to see more of them. Plus, we had the added benefit of knowing that Eileen, a hunter, was a legacy and a Woman of Letters – a detail that not only adds to the character, but to the series and possibilities of seeing her or other Men of Letters legacies in the future.

After the episode aired, twitter and tumblr exploded with love for the two characters and the actresses portraying them. An older woman being portrayed as slightly crass and kicking ass was a wonderful addition to the Supernatural scene. Dee Wallace’s Mildred made me want to hear what other stories that she had about her days on the road and hoped that maybe she could impart some wisdom on me. Shoshannah Stern answered questions on social media about coming into the role as a person who is deaf, letting the audience know that Robbie got it right in the script. Her comfort and enthusiasm for the role only strengthened the excitement the fans had for this kind of representation, and deaf fans were emotional about seeing a character like themselves on a show they love, sending video of them using ASL for messages and signing thank you to her for her role on the show.

As if this high wasn’t enough, 11×12 had fans of the SPN Ladies lying on the ground in a coma of happiness. The Wayward Daughters episode featuring Claire Novak (Kathryn Newton) and Alex Jones (Katherine Ramdeen) living with their foster-mom Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) embodied and proved the spirit of Supernatural – family doesn’t end in blood.

jody and claire

Jody and Claire in episode 11×12

Again, the story could have been flatter and still pulled together an episode, but writer Nancy Won (Being Human, Jericho) took on beloved characters for “Don’t You Forget About Me”, her second episode she’s written for the series, and added dimension with humor and drama. Sam and Dean walk into an almost ‘after school special’-like situation where Jody is the wine mom having ‘the talk’ with her foster daughters because she finds out one is on the pill. The only thing missing was vodka aunt Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster). Sam and Dean got home cooked meals and gave uncle and dad-like advice to the girls. Claire’s story fit her character, Alex’s past caught up with her – this easily could have been a backdoor pilot for a Wayward Daughters spin-off, and a much better spin-off than the one that aired in Season 9 to disastrous results.

Much like the Season 9 episode that introduced Alex Jones’ character (“Alex Annie Alexis Anne” written by Bob Berens), during 11×12 I forgot what was happening in the Supernatural universe outside of the story playing out in front of me. This might seem like a bad thing, but in this case it’s certainly not; the female driven plots and the depth of their stories and potential therein are so intriguing that viewers are excited about a show that has been on the air for going on eleven years while being so immersed in the story that they forget the major plot arc of the season.

This interest is bolstered by the closeness of women on the show. Seeing Briana and Kim interacting on twitter, Ruthie hanging out with Alaina Huffman (Abaddon) and Kathryn, Shoshanna and Dee taking a selfie while filming, Alaina and Lisa Berry (Billie the Reaper) whose characters appeared seasons apart tweeting out a photo –

spnladies

Lisa, Kathryn, Kim, Ruthie, and Alaina out during the airing of 11×12.

the closeness these women have appeals to the viewers, making them just as happy if not more so than when the male castmates are out together or tweet a picture of them at work.
It seems to be a frequent thing for the ladies to get together during the airing of the show and tweet out photos or make videos to share on twitter, despite many of their characters having absolutely no interaction on the show.

I hope to see more of the women, and even though the series centers around Sam and Dean Winchester, we’ve seen the importance of characters that were supposed to be in one or two episodes grow to series regulars and integral parts of the series. The more frequent integration of female characters in Supernatural have done just that, coming to the table with stories that are determined to be told and don’t entirely revolve around the guys.

In my opinion, this season has had a handful of meaningful and memorable episodes, notably 11×04 “Baby” that revolved around the brothers while also being a monster of the week episode and shot from the perspective of the Impala, 11×08 “Just My Imagination” that gave the audience some insight into Sam that we had never seen before while adding to the lore and being simultaneously emotional and humorous, and then the last three episodes with Lucifer and the cage, Rowena’s revelation, Misha Collins’ portrayal of Lucifer using Castiel as a vessel (it’s Lustiel, fight me Robbie), Sam and Dean brother moments, Mildred and Eileen, and Jody with her Wayward Daughters. While I’m still not entirely sold on the Darkness story line, I have hope that we will continue to see the heart of the show – family – as the focus rather than arbitrary bad scenarios for the sake of cliffhanger drama.

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One comment

  1. I totally agree with everything in this article, but might I add how fantastic it was that the monster of the week was seeking out vulnerability, and while it would have been easy (though wrong) to claim that women, deaf people, or senior citizens would be easy targets, the monster went after Dean? Obviously this is important to some underlying problem with Dean right now, but I think it’s totally possible that lazier, less careful writers would have killed or seriously injured Eileen or Mildred mid-episode.

    Also, I see Donna as more of a donut aunt than a vodka aunt, but I’m not sure donut aunts are a thing (even if they should be.)

    Like

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